17 October 2017



Scan and save your printed photos using your phone’s camera

I’ve been using this smartphone app called PhotoScan since it was first released about a year ago. It does just one thing: lets you take a photograph of a printed photo, and straightens out the edges and removes glare. The result usually looks like you actually scanned the photograph — i.e., it’s nice and flat and square — rather than like you simply snapped a photo of it. It’s also useful in art museums — if I can back up enough, I can “scan” four-foot-by-six-foot paintings, photos, etc. It takes about ten seconds, and lets you crop in case it hasn’t correctly guessed where the margins should be. Now after each trip, I have a little “art collection” of my own, which I can read about at my leisure.

-- Eric D Hanchrow 10/17/17

17 October 2017


Micro Flame Butane Torch Kit

Mini torch with soldering tip attachment

The Bernz-O-Matic Micro Flame Torch kit sells for $34, which isn’t cheap for a butane torch, but let me tell you why this one is special.

This torch comes with a nice knurled grip, a safety switch, a latch to keep it lit continuously, and a flame adjustment on the side. You also get an adjustment up top that adjusts the air mix for a less forceful flame.

But what really comes in handy is the attachment that comes included. By attaching this to the tip you can turn it into a heat gun, useful for heat shrink — which is mostly what I use this torch for. But there’s also a soldering iron tip that screws in that lets you use this as a cordless soldering iron.

It’s a neat option for off the grid soldering and the butane refills are cheap and easy to get at any hardware store. This doesn’t come pre-filled, though, so you will need to grab some butane and fill it up in order to use it.

-- Donald Bell 10/17/17

([Cool Tools has a YouTube channel with many more tool reviews] — editors)

16 October 2017


Magic Melamine Sponges and Erasers

Multi-purpose scuff and stain removers

A 2007 Cool Tools review of Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser raved about its ability to remove smudge marks from walls that other cleaners couldn’t touch. The price then for a 4-pack was $6, or $1.50 apiece. The current cost of a Magic Eraser 4-pack on Amazon is $3.57 (the in-store cost is about $1 higher). That’s about $0.89 apiece.

For Prime members, Mr. Clean sells a textured, extra-durable (“50% Stronger to Last Longer”) 4-pack for $5.34, or $1.34 apiece. Mr. Clean also sells a 2-pack of bathroom-scrubber pads for $2.97, or $1.48 apiece. It contains a soap/scum -dissolving chemical. There are now sellers of similar products in various quantities (“packs”) for much lower prices, such as 50₵ apiece, or 40₵ each for a 100-pack. To see them, search Amazon for “melamine sponge.”

Slightly more expensive (64₵ apiece in a $15.95 25-pack), but a better value, is an “extra durable” version with a stable, blue-colored middle layer that deters softening and crumbling. It also has a conjured (S-shaped) grip and a textured surface. It is sold by a couple of vendors, the one I prefer being “Oh My Clean,” which is rated highest by Amazon reviewers at 4.6 stars.

If you’re doubtful about paying $16 for so many of an unknown item, pick up a 4-pack of the Mr. Clean brand and test how often you find a use for them. Also, check out the uses described in numerous enthusiastic YouTube videos (and in comments on Amazon product pages). They can be found by searching for “melamine sponges erasers.” Such uses include this (from a vendor): “Dirty old sneakers are white again. Scuffed up baseboards look like new. The coffee stain inside your favorite mug is gone.” And this (from a user): “clean your car’s interior, Door Panel, Dash, Console, Leather or Leather like Material, and Outside black trim to remove those stubborn wax marks around black trimming.”

Caution #1: I suspect these melamine sponges — or at least the Mr. Clean alternatives — are subject to occasional glitches in production that lead to bad batches. For instance, one customer who complained about fragile sponges was sent a replacement package and reported that it worked fine.

Caution #2: P&G warns: “Test a small area with light pressure before use. Not recommended for the following surfaces: high gloss, polished, dark, brushed, satin, faux, bare/polished wood, copper, stainless steel, non-stick coating, or vehicle body.” Some cosmetic damage will follow. However, it may be less noticeable or damaging (except in the case of an auto body) than the smudge the product removes. That’s been my experience.

Caution #3: P&G also warns: “Rinse required for surfaces in direct contact with food.”

-- Roger Knights 10/16/17

16 October 2017


Mobile Plug Inverter

Portable household current

You plug this solid-state inverter into your car’s lighter socket and power whatever 110 volt AC appliance you want, 75 watts max. No need for special DC gadgets. It’s made for recharging cell phones and other batteries, but I’ve used it for my scanner and my printer while on the road. Also, I’ve run a small black-and-white TV set, and more important, my baby’s bottle heater (I admit is a small one). You can power almost anything that doesn’t use large resistance like hair dryers, waffle makers, bread toasters, small ovens. I haven’t tried a coffee maker yet.

The same company offers an assorted line of automobile inverters with more output power (200 watts on up). This is the smallest one.

-- Juan J Gil 10/16/17

(This Cool Tools Favorite from 2004 is no longer available, but this Bestek inverter is a highly-rated substitute. — editors)

15 October 2017


Blade Runner 2049/Lynda for free/Bear

Recomendo: issue no. 64

World building
For science-fiction buffs, I highly recommend the new Blade Runner sequel. It is less a movie and more of an experience. It feels like an immersion into virtual reality without 3D. The unmusical sound track, slow-pace editing (it runs almost 3 hours!), breathtaking visual details, all deliver a stunning alternative world, with even more persuasion than its famous prequel. The plot is merely a vehicle for the main character: this totally felt world. Worth seeing on a big screen with full-scale sound. — KK

Lynda for free
Lynda.com has an excellent collection of training videos for learning programming, design, bitcoin fundamentals, bookkeeping, and much more. Lynda charges a monthly fee, but if you have a library card, the chances are you can become a Lynda member for free. Here’s a link to Lynda (and other great stuff, like the digital edition of the New York Times) for free. — MF

Pretty note app
I use Evernote for work and personal note keeping, but I have to admit Bear, which is referred to as the “beautiful writing app”, is more enjoyable to use on my phone. It’s so clean and pretty and easy to format. I’ve been using it as a daily journal and for poem writing. — CD

IKEA as platform
People have been hacking Ikea furniture forever, customizing and upgrading its modular units. Now Ikea has become a platform that high-end designers create skins for. You buy the economical guts of an Ikea kitchen, shelving, or a sofa, and then apply new doors, or handles, countertops, fabrics created by legendary designers. This is a great New York Times summary article describing the ecosystem with links to the many companies that offer refined design layers for the Ikea platform. — KK

Learning game for preschoolers
My three-year-old brother is obsessed with watching Youtube on his iPad and playing app games. I wanted to find a non-tech activity that he would have fun playing with and maybe learn something. The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game — a color matching game — was fun for both of us! You spin a spinner, you pick up acorns and you try to be the first to collect all the colors. He practiced saying all his colors out loud and worked on his motor skills with the squirrel squeezer. He also learned to “cheat” by landing on the “sneaky squirrel” and being allowed to steal acorns. It was really cute. — CD

Small parts storage
My daughter and I have converted part of the family room into a maker space. We needed something to hold and organize lots of small parts, and that didn’t eat up a lot of tabletop space. This $28 cabinet with 44 drawers was just what we wanted. It’s tall, but some double-sided tape on the bottom has anchored it to the table to prevent tipping over. — MF


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-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 10/15/17

15 October 2017


Razor Tooth Pruning Saw

Best way to cut green wood

I am shocked at how long it took me to figure out the virtues of a pruning saw. For three decades I have sweated with a regular hand saw to lop off hefty tree branches, tidy up firewood, trim Christmas tree stumps, and cut down shrubs. (Trimming branches is really not a place for a mini-chain saw even if I had one). Yet month after month my regular saw would bind up in green, wet or frozen wood.

On principle I avoid one-job tools, which is what a pruning saw sounded like. However when I finally got a pruning saw it was like a hot knife slicing through buttery wood. I don’t think it matters much what brand you get. I now have two: a folding 7″ Coleman I take car camping, and a 13″ Corona Curved I use for landscaping at home. The wolfishly large teeth bite off visible chips without binding, and in no time the wettest, greenest wood is cut. But you already knew this, right?

-- KK 10/15/17

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2004 — editors)


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Nicole Harkin, Writer and Photographer

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23 February 2017



We Refreshed Our Website

If you read Cool Tools via RSS (which is the way Kevin and I read blogs) then you probably don’t realize we updated our website design today. We took your feedback seriously and tried our best to simplify the design and make it more legible.

I’m sure we got some things wrong. If you find a mistake or have suggestions about our current iteration, please let us know in the comments.

Thanks for reading Cool Tools and being part of the community.

If I’ve still got your attention, I’d like to remind you that Cool Tools runs reviews written by our readers. Please recommend a tool you love.


Cool Tools is a web site which recommends the best/cheapest tools available. Tools are defined broadly as anything that can be useful. This includes hand tools, machines, books, software, gadgets, websites, maps, and even ideas. All reviews are positive raves written by real users. We don’t bother with negative reviews because our intent is to only offer the best.

One new tool is posted each weekday. Cool Tools does NOT sell anything. The site provides prices and convenient sources for readers to purchase items.

When Amazon.com is listed as a source (which it often is because of its prices and convenience) Cool Tools receives a fractional fee from Amazon if items are purchased at Amazon on that visit. Cool Tools also earns revenue from Google ads, although we have no foreknowledge nor much control of which ads will appear.

We recently posted a short history of Cool Tools which included current stats as of April 2008. This explains both the genesis of this site, and the tools we use to operate it.

13632766_602152159944472_101382480_oKevin Kelly started Cool Tools in 2000 as an email list, then as a blog since 2003. He edited all reviews through 2006. He writes the occasional review, oversees the design and editorial direction of this site, and made a book version of Cool Tools. If you have a question about the website in general his email is kk {at} kk.org.

13918651_603790483113973_1799207977_oMark Frauenfelder edits Cool Tools and develops editorial projects for Cool Tools Lab, LLC. If you’d like to submit a review, email him at editor {at} cool-tools.org (or use the Submit a Tool form).

13898183_602421513250870_1391167760_oClaudia Dawson runs the Cool Tool website, posting items daily, maintaining software, measuring analytics, managing ads, and in general keeping the site alive. If you have a concern about the operation or status of this site contact her email is cl {at} kk.org.